Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman)

Fragile Things is a short story collection by Neil Gaiman. It has a few poems as well. [Here are my other reviews of Gaiman books.]

There are some fairy tales (retellings), which I like. But especially interesting in this collection are two sequels – The Problem of Susan (which deals with Narnia and the discarding of Susan) and The Monarch of the Glen (which is a sequel to American Gods).

Fragile Things is another really great collection. Of course, there are some differences in quality between the stories, but altogether, it is very nice.

[Oh yeah, and because I was asked: I think Smoke and Mirrors is more consistently good than Fragile Things, but Fragile Things has some better stories than Smoke and Mirrors.]

Let me talk about each of the stories seperately.


The Mapmaker (in the introduction) [Favourite]

An emperor builds an island representing his empire. But he wants an even more accurate map – one that is the size of his empire.
I liked the Mapmaker. It was rather foreseeable, but not less enjoyable for that. And I really liked the idea of a map that it’s 100% accurate and also on a scale of 1:1.

A Study in Emerald [Favourite]

A mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and H. P. Lovecraft. You can read the story here [pdf].
I have never been a big Sherlock Holmes fan, though I do like him. And I still haven’t gotten around to reading Lovecraft. But I really like this story. It’s interesting and it’s weird and I really like the Newspaper snippets/ads that were at the beginning of each chapter.

The Fairy Reel

NG calls it “not much of a poem” in the introduction – and he’s right.

October in the Chair

The months of the year are gathered to tell each other stories. This time it’s October’s turn to head the meeting.
I like the idea of the personified months, their personalities and the squabbles they have. But I found October’s story pretty generic.

The Hidden Chamber

A retelling of Bluebeard, in poem form.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – his poem’s leave me cold.

Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire [Favourite]

A young writer tries to write a story which shows the world as it is, but satire keeps on creeping in. And he’s constantly interrupted by monsters and duels. Until he tries his hand at fantasy.
I really loved this story. It’s funny and I liked the twist.

The Flints of Memory Lane

One of three stories in this collection inspired by a Lisa Snellings statue. This one is a ghost story that remains unclimactic and unresolved.
I loved the first sentence of that story (“I like things to be story-shaped”). And I liked the structure and the “unresolvedness” of the story. But ghost stories just aren’t my thing.

Closing Time

In a club in London, four strangers sit together and one of them tells a story about a strange little playhouse.
The story is above all weird. I didn’t think it very scary, though it was uncanny. I’m honestly not so sure what to think about it.

Going Wodwo [Favourite]

A wodwo is a wild forest man. Didn’t know that, thankfully NG explains in the introduction. It’s a short poem of someone choosing the life of a wodwo.
I actually really like this poem – especially the last two lines:

And feel the silence blossom on my tongue
like language.

Bitter Grounds

A man breaks off all connection to his previous life and drives south. By coincidence, he meets an anthropologists who is supposed to do a talk at a conference about Zombie Girls and takes over his life.
Again, a pretty weird story. One I liked, even though it’s not a favourite. And one that I think I’ll read again – I think there are things I can still discover about it.

Other People

A man comes to hell, where he’s tortured by a demon.
I really liked the idea. And I was reminded of Sartre and his quote from No Exit: “Hell is other people”.

Keepsakes and Treasures [Favourite]

Mr Smith works for Mr Alice, who is a pretty shady character. He’s also constantly searching for the next fuck and his tastes go into the young boys direction. Mr Smith tells the story of how he and Mr Alice acquired one such boy.
My summary is not very good, I’m afraid. Anyway – Mr Smith and Mr Alice are very, very interesting characters. NG promises that he’ll tell us at least another story about them, which I would love to read. (They also make an appearance in the Monarch of the Glen, the last of the stories here.)

Good Boys Deserve Favors

This is the second story inspired by Lisa Snellings. It’s the story of a bass player.
I found this story rather unremarkable – nothing bad, but nothing really good either.

Strange Little Girls

Here are twelve short stories rolled into one. Originally, they were written to accompany Tori Amos‘s CD of the same name.
I don’t know the CD and somehow I think that it would be important to do so to really enjoy the stories here.

Harlequin Valentine [Favourite]

It’s Valentine’s Day and the Harlequin has given his heart to his Columbine. Literally. This story’s also inspired by Lisa Snellings.
I liked this story, really did. It was weird, but in a very good way. And I never saw the twist coming, which was great.


A re-telling of Goldilocks and the three bears and again a poem.
I loved the structure of this poem – as the father tells the story, he’s interrupted from time to time by his kid and he gives us his own thoughts on the story itself. But altogether, it doesn’t quite work out.

The Problem of Susan [Favourite]

Susan is a professor haunted by the tragic train accident that took all her family from her. She’s interviewed by a young journalist, which stirs further memories.
After you’ve read this story, you will never look at Narnia the same way again, ever. It’s disturbing, frankly, but also a very pointed criticism of the books.

Instructions [Favourite]

A poem about how to behave if you happen to land in a fairy tale.
Goodness, I lovelovelovelovelove this poem. Nothing more I can say. Only squeal in delight.

My Life

A sockpuppet tells you the story of his life. It’s a poem, which can be read as prose and vice versa.
I liked it. NG writes that a lot of actors use this as a audition piece – and I can totally see that happening. But as a story, I didn’t like it that much.

Feeders and Eaters

This is like the prose version of Eaten (Scenes of a Moving Picture) from Smoke and Mirrors.
It left me pretty much unimpressed.

Diseasemaker’s Croup

Written for an anthology of made-up diseases, NG describes a sickness that makes you make up diseases.
I have to admit that I didn’t understand about half of the words NG uses here – which I’m pretty sure was the point of the exercise. I get the gist though and I appreciate what he’s trying to do, it’s just that I couldn’t care less.

Goliath [Favourite]

NG was asked to write a short story for the release of Matrix – and did. This is it: a story set in the Matrix universe.
I really liked what he did with it – especially the time factor. If NG had written the screenplay, maybe there would be a part two and three of the Matrix that I could acknowledge.

Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky

This one was written for Tori Amos again, this time for the Scarlet’s Walk tour book. It’s – as the title suggests – a bit from a diary of somebody following or looking for a Scarlet.
Mostly, this story let’s me go “huh”? NG says that he didn’t want to resolve anything, and let everything just be a little out of reach. Well, he succeeded. I’m just not sure that I’m enitrely happy with this approach to story telling.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

You can read the story here. And you can download the audio here.
Two young guys go to a party which is full with fascinating girls who all seem to be from far away.
It’s a good story and nicely captures that whole awkward party thing.

The Day the Saucers Came [Favourite]

It’s a short poem about someone in love on the end of days.
It’s great!

Here’s the lovely poster Jouni Koponen created, which contains the whole poem. [Click to see larger.]


Sunbird [Favourite]

An eclectic Epicurean club has a problem: they have run out of new things to eat! So one of them suggests travelling to Egypt to eat the Sunbird.
It’s a cool story with a good twist. I really liked it. NG wrote it for his daughter’s birthday – what a perfect present!

Inventing Aladdin

It’s another poem about how Sheherazade tells the story of Aladdin.
Again, I’m unimpressed.

The Monarch of the Glen [Favourite]

This novella revisits Shadow a couple of years after American Gods. Also, Mr Alice and Mr Smith turn up for a bit.
I love Shadow. He’s one of my favourite fictional characters ever – and this novella reminded me again why. I also love the whole American Gods universe and the mash-up of different mythologies. I just wish there was more of it.

8 thoughts on “Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman)

  1. I wanted to write “I’ll bring that Tori Amos album next time I see you.” … but it died with my harddrive :-(

    A Study In Emerald was the first story by Neil Gaiman I ever read. I love the details in it…ok, no, that’s a lie. I love everything in it.
    And I liked Fragile Things as a whole.

    • No worries. I’ll get to it, I’m pretty sure.

      Did you read A Study in Emerald before Neverwhere or after?

      Btw, you still have my copy of American Gods, right? And of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? Do you plan on reading those any time soon?

  2. I read it before I even knew Neil Gaiman existed. And I loved it. And then, later, I read Neverwhere and his other books, and I got Fragile Things and read the introduction to “A Study in Emerald” and thought: “Wow…this sounds exactly like that great story I loved so much.”

    As for your other questions: Yes. Yes. Well…oh who am I kidding – I’ll bring them next time…promise. (These answers also count for any questions regarding “Schopenhauer’s Telescope”, “Slaughterhouse Five” and the book about the terrorist teddy)

    • You can keep the other three books longer – I read them already. Unless you ain’t never gonna read them.
      But I haven’t yet read ELaIC and I’d like to re-read American Gods, so… if you could bring them next time, that would be great!

  3. Pingback: Re-Read: American Gods (Neil Gaiman) « Stuff

  4. Pingback: How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2017) | kalafudra's Stuff

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